Judas and the Black Messiah – Marketing Recap

How Warner Bros. has sold a story of power, politics and betrayal.

Judas and the Black Messiah, directed by Shaka King and co-written by him and Will Berson (with the story from Keith and Kennth Lucas), travels back to 1960s Chicago to tell the story of Illinois Black Panther leader Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya). Specifically, it focuses on Hampton’s betrayal by William O’Neal (Lakeith Stanfield). That betrayal by O’Neal comes after he’s picked up by the FBI and told the only way he can stay out of jail is by informing on Hampton and his organization’s activities at a time when the Black Panther movement was viewed by law enforcement as a terrorist organization.

The movie, which also stars Jermaine Fowler, Martin Sheen, Dominique Fishback, Jesse Plemons and others, is hitting both limited theaters and HBO Max this week as part of Warner Bros.’ day-and-date release strategy. With a 98% “Fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes and already either having been nominated or won a number of awards, WB’s campaign has focused on the performances as well as the real-life drama that inspired the story.

The Posters

Last September the first poster (by marketing agency Statement Advertising) came out, showing O’Neal in the foreground with a red-tinged photo of Hampton and the crowds that believed in him in the background. That design, even independent of the copy reading “You can kill a revolutionary but you can’t kill the revolution”, is similar to the look and feel of propaganda posters, with the red usually indicating a socialist or similar message, one that’s appropriate for Hampton’s mission.

The second poster (by marketing agency Concept Arts) came out in January and pares things down to just Hampton and O’Neal. While it keeps that red shading, it also loses the copy but adds all the festivals the film has appeared at and claim that this is “One of the best films of the year.”

A final poster (by marketing agency GRAVILLIS) came out just last week and takes a different approach but keeps the idea of generally looking like some sort of propaganda poster. This time though it’s a blue and black color scheme and a design that also kind of mimics a paperback book, with the title at the top and the imagery in the bottom two-thirds. This one was designed for artist and former Black Panther member Emory Douglas.

The Trailers

The first trailer (2 million views on YouTube) was released in early August, opening with Hampton introducing himself and then showing how he is ready to lead a revolution. It quickly switches to focus on O’Neal, who is being interrogated by the FBI, who want him to inform on Hampton. Scenes of violent uprising are mixed with shots of Hampton and his organization helping feed and support communities, showing the good and the bad that the FBI was so eager to quash.

The second trailer (6.9 million views on YouTube) came out in January, showing Hampton and the community work he and the Black Panthers are doing. That’s far from the terrorist threat the FBI makes them out to be, something O’Neal comes to realize after he’s already in too deep. There’s an awful lot of powerful emotion here, selling a movie that’s focused on presenting a much more accurate picture of that period than may be taught in many history classes.

Online and Social

You’ll find information on showtimes (where applicable) as well as a synopsis and other very basic information on the film’s website, which uses a variation on the key art at the top.

Advertising and Promotions

As with the rest of the studio’s 2021 slate, it was among the titles named by Warner Bros. as debuting simultaneously in theaters and on HBO Max.

The movie’s profile was raised significantly when it was added as a late entry to the 2021 Sundance Film Festival, which served as the film’s premiere.

A featurette released during Sundance in early February went into the real people and stories that influence the movie.

Cutdown versions of the trailer were used as preroll ads on YouTube and elsewhere.

The song “What It Feels Like” from Nipsey Hussle and Jay-Z came out earlier this week, one of the tunes on the movie’s “inspired by” soundtrack.

Media and Press

Right about the time the trailer debuted, King was interviewed about the controversial casting of a British actor to play a prominent Black American, something he said he was aware of but had to make the best choice he could regarding. Kaluuya was later interviewed about how the movie follows a path he’s carved out in her career to date along and more.

There was a feature profile covering how long King and others had worked on the project, how there were at times two Hampton-oriented films in development and how a number of studios passed on the film for reasons that seemed based more on “no one wants to see a movie about Black power” than anything else.

How Kaluuya researched his role and what that research exposed him to in terms of American history, as well how he worked with King and others were covered in an interview with the actor.

Stanfield appeared on “The Tonight Show” to talk about the film, though the conversation of course spilled over into more of his recent and upcoming projects.

King was interviewed about focusing on Hampton’s story and making it as realistic as possible, while Fishback spoke about how the film is part of her effort to tell important stories.

H.E.R. performed their song from the soundtrack on “The Late Show.”

Overall

WB’s campaign here is very strong, selling a biopic about a public figure that’s too often marginalized in many history books and lessons. Kaluuya and Stanfield are rightly front and center here, but so is King and that’s great to see since, as a filmmaker himself, the opportunity afforded by a higher profile is that he will be able to tell more like this.

The performances by the leads are at the forefront of a marketing push that has a clear and easily recognizable brand identity, one that makes it clear the film does not shy away from addressing sometimes uncomfortable societal issues. It’s not one that will likely drive massive amounts of new subscribers to HBO Max, but it does make the case that it’s a movie that needs to be watched if you can.

Queen & Slim – Marketing Recap

What consequences come from criminalizing black bodies is examined in a road trip story filled with meaning.

queen and slim posterIn the new movie Queen & Slim – written by Lena Waithe and directed by Melina Matsoukas – the story focuses on a first date that has a terrible ending. Queen (Jodie Turner-Smith) and Slim (Daniel Kaluuya) have had a decent time getting to know each other. When the night is drawing to a close and they’re leaving the date, the pair are pulled over for a minor problem, but the attitude of the police officer escalates the situation to the point Slim, in self-defense, seizes the officer’s gun and shoots him.

Fearful of the repercussions of that act, the two go on the run. While the media labels them cop killers and unrepentant criminals, a video of the incident shows the truth of what happens and they take on the aura of folk heroes, even while they’re still being chased by the authorities.

The movie’s campaign has drawn comparisons to another famous “outlaws on the run” story, but that does a disservice to the injustice at the heart of the inciting incident.

The Posters

In July the first poster (by marketing agency Gravillis Inc.) was released showing Queen and Slim posing for the camera in a garage, seemingly to create the impression this is the kind of photo taken while they’re on the run.

The Trailers

What seems to be an app-based first date starts out awkwardly in the first trailer (6.3 million views on YouTube) and gets more intense from there, as a questionable traffic stop results in Slim shooting the police officer that pulled them over and quickly became aggressive. He and Queen stay together and go on the run, their reputation often preceding them wherever they wind up. The stakes of their journey only get higher as they get deeper and deeper into the criminal life they’ve inadvertently chosen.

After getting the same first date setup as before, the second trailer (5 million views on YouTube) from early August spends more time showing how Queen and Slim’s actions have created a movement, offering violent inspiration to people who were feeling beaten down and hopeless against the powers that be. Life on the run isn’t easy, though, but they keep coming back to one another as they seek to evade the police at every turn.

Another trailer (8.5 million views on YouTube) in September starts off in the same manner as the others, showing how a normal first date winds up leading to an incredible journey of criminal glorification and adulation.

Online and Social

In addition to the usual marketing content, the official website for the movie has a “Reactions” section that curates some of the social media posts praising or talking about someone’s anticipation for the film.

Advertising and Promotions

One of the first big promotional boosts for the movie came back in March when Universal generated some positive buzz by including it as part of its CinemaCon presentation, with Waithe appearing on stage to get people talking.

It was announced in August the film would screen at this year’s AFI Fest in November. The two stars appeared at the Vanity Fair Summit in October to talk about and promote the film and its story.

A featurette released in late October featured Matsoukas and Waithe talking about the story and how they came to work together along with what they sought to accomplish with this movie.

Fandango MovieClips debuted a clip from the film showing Queen and Slim seeking help in the form of shelter and transportation while on the run. Another clip catches up with the two on the run, with Queen enjoying a moment of freedom.

A featurette came out just before release that showed the first table read by the cast and more behind the scenes action.

Online and outdoor ads used reconfictured key art to make the same bold statement as the poster.

queen and slim banner

Media and Press

Matsoukas spoke about the movie’s story here, part of a Q&A accompanying a screening of the film.

An interview with Matsoukas and screenwriter Lena Waithe had them dismissing comparisons to Bonnie & Clyde while emphasizing the uniquely black experience and attitudes they sought to portray and convey to the audience.

Kaluuya appeared on “The Late Show” and then “The Daily Show” to talk about the movie and more.

How Matsoukas got involved with the film and what kind of story she wanted to tell was covered by the director at the movie’s premiere, with others from the cast and crew covering similar ground. Another interview with her around that time had her talking more directly about how tackling the repercussions of police brutality was important for her.

The two stars were interviewed together about how they bonded prior to and during filming in an effort to best portray their on-screen relationship and dynamic.

Another interview with Matsoukas had her talking about the story and how important it was to her to show people like herself and others on screen.

Waithe made an appearance on “The Late Show” to share her experience writing and working on the film.

There were a number of other interviews with the cast and crew, many of which focused on the notion of “black love” being an act of resistance and defiance against a system that would otherwise keep them down. Many of those can be found on the movie’s Twitter feed.

Overall

The biggest surprise of the campaign is that I haven’t encountered much pushback to the themes of the story from the media’s more conservative wing. Where, I wonder, is the intense hatred lobbed at a story about a black man killing a white police officer? Perhaps everyone’s attention is too focused on the current impeachment process to notice this and get their viewers stirred into an outrage.

That’s not me saying there *should* be such pushback. Far from it, I think more stories like this that reflect the modern reality of different members of society are essential. I’m just shocked that Fox News etc haven’t gone wall-to-wall in lambasting the filmmakers and declaring them to be traitors who hate all laws.

Putting that aside, the campaign is powerful in its starkness. From the black and white photo on the poster to the vast silences of the trailers, the intensity of the story comes through in the pauses, the moments where things slow down or speed up. That’s what makes the marketing so intense, accompanied by the passion of Waithe and Matsoukas in particular in how they’ve advocated for the movie during the press cycle.

Picking Up the Spare

Waithe appeared on “The Daily Show” and was the subject of a profile in The New York Times. She was also put in the spotlight at Adweek for her marketing prowess. She and Matsoukas talked about their mission to honor those who have been victimized by police and were jointly profiled in a story about making a uniquely black story.

Matsoukas’ career was highlighted as well while Kaluuya was interviewed about his approach to picking projects.

Waithe was interviewed again about how she found the truth in her lead characters.